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Short-term impacts of 2017 western North American wildfires on meteorology, the atmosphere's energy budget, and premature mortality

Author(s): Diana N. Bernstein, Douglas S. Hamilton, Rosalie Krasnoff, Natalie M. Mahowald, David S. Connelly, Simone Tilmes, Peter G. M. Hess
Year Published: 2021
Description:

Western North American fires have been increasing in magnitude and severity over the last few decades. The complex coupling of fires with the atmospheric energy budget and meteorology creates short-term feedbacks on regional weather altering the amount of pollution to which Americans are exposed. Using a combination of model simulations and observations, this study shows that the severe fires in the summer of 2017 increased atmospheric aerosol concentrations leading to a cooling of the air at the surface, reductions in sensible heat fluxes, and a lowering of the planetary boundary layer height over land. This combination of lower-boundary layer height and increased aerosol pollution from the fires reduces air quality. We estimate that from start of August to end of October 2017, ~400 premature deaths occurred within the western US as a result of short-term exposure to elevated PM2.5 from fire smoke. As North America confronts a warming climate with more fires the short-term climate and pollution impacts of increased fire activity should be assessed within policy aimed to minimize impacts of climate change on society.

Citation: Bernstein DN, Hamilton DS, Krasnoff R. Mahowald NM, Connelly DS, Tilmes S, and Hess PGM. Short-term impacts of 2017 western North American wildfires on meteorology, the atmosphere's energy budget, and premature mortality. Environmental Research Letters 16(6): 064065. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ac02ee
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Weather, Fire & Climate, Smoke & Air Quality, Smoke Emissions, Smoke Monitoring
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 23207
Record updated: Jun 8, 2021